Construction in Canada enters second decade of strong growth

Construction employment will remain at all-time record high levels in Canada for the next decade or so, according to a new forecast of labour supply and demand published by the Construction Sector Council (CSC).

Canada will need an estimated 319,000 new construction workers from 2012 to 2020 to keep pace with increased construction demand and to compensate for the rising number of expected retirements, says the national summary report, Construction Looking Forward, 2012-2020 Key Highlights.

“As the industry enters this second decade of strong growth, stakeholders are drawing on past experience to find ways to meet future demand,” says CSC Business co-chair Tim Flood, president of John Flood and Sons (1961) Ltd. “Recruiting for the projects is the first priority, but there is a second, critical challenge related to training and retaining workers to meet current needs as well as long-term needs.”

“The industry is working to ensure that investment in apprenticeships and other types of training and support systems keep pace with demand,” he says.

According to the forecast report, the national construction labour force is estimated to rise by 100,000 workers between 2012 and 2020 to meet demand associated with increased construction activity. Much of the expansion will be driven by major projects in non-residential construction and, more specifically, by large industrial and engineering projects. With the exception of a few provinces, residential construction markets continue to recover at a slower pace compared to previous peak levels of activity and employment.

Meanwhile, industry faces the added challenge associated with replacing an aging workforce and the accelerating loss of the baby boomer generation due to retirement. Canada wide, an estimated 219,000 workers are expected to retire. This means that construction will need to replace more than 20 percent of its current workforce over the next decade.

“Industry promotion is a high priority, as we will need to tap into all potential sources of labour supply to meet growing needs. Increased efforts will aim at attracting youth, women, Aboriginal people, other industries and immigrants,” says Flood.

CSC Labour co-chair Robert Blakely, director of Canadian Affairs for the Building and Construction Trades Department AFL-CIO says, “Another major challenge for human resource managers will be in tracking the mobility of the key non-residential trades across regions and potentially from abroad.”

This year’s forecast highlights a new dimension in the national competition for skilled workers that focuses on specialized labour markets created by the increase in resource projects such as mining, oil and gas, pipelines, electrical generation and transmission.

“Many of these projects are in remote, northern locations,” continues Blakely, “but the scale of this work generates significant demand requirements across many provinces.” Mapping the proposed start-up of large major projects in some regions and the winding down of projects in others will be critical for assessing the potential for inter-provincial mobility to meet peak demand requirements. Key challenges will be identifying the availability of workers, the portability of skills and their willingness to work in remote areas.

Regionally, Prince Edward Island, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia follow the overall national pattern of recovery and expansion across the outlook period. Employment in some regions grows as much as 20 percent from 2012 to 2020. Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador report very strong employment growth, and at peak times, major resource projects exhaust the available workforce for some skilled trades and occupations in these provinces. Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia report more moderate year-to-year changes in total construction employment.

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